Advancing Women’s Rights Worldwide


Testimony by Michelle Bachelet Executive Director of UN Women at Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Strasbourg, France 26 January 2012.

[Check against delivery.]

Honourable Jean-Claude Mignon, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe,

Distinguished parliamentarians,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to join you today during your joint debate on matters of vital importance to UN Women-advancing women's rights worldwide and promoting the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.

UN Women was established in the belief that delivering on the promise of the equal rights of men and women will bring far-reaching gains that will benefit women, and everyone.

Now I know that this proposition is far from being a reality for the 50 percent or 3.5 billion women and girls of this world. If it were, women's rights would be on top of the political agenda. That is not yet the case. But that is exactly where women's rights should be, on the top of the agenda.

Whether we are talking about a green economy and sustainable development, the transition to democracy in the Arab world, or advancing peace, justice and equality, the world stands a better chance of finding solutions if it taps into the combined experience and potential of all its people.

We have today clear evidence, from the World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Economic Forum and private sector think tanks that gender discrimination and inequality do not just violate human rights but are economically inefficient. So advancing equal opportunity and equal rights is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do, and there is no better time to act than now.

Investing in women is not an expenditure, it is an investment in our common future.

The time is now for equality and our priorities at UN Women are clear.

To advance women's rights, we are working to increase women's leadership and political participation, to strengthen women's economic power, to end violence against women and girls, and to ensure that women play a central role in peace-making and peace-building. As we move this agenda forward, we expand justice and equality.

To make greater progress, I am here to strengthen cooperation with you and the Council of Europe.

Since UN Women started its operations one year ago, we've all witnessed profound economic, political, and social upheaval. This brings opportunities and threats to women's rights worldwide. Our greatest challenge is to make sure that hard won gains for women are not lost but protected and advanced during this time of austerity and transition.

I have travelled to all regions of the world and everywhere I have been I have heard strong demands by women for increased political participation and economic empowerment.

With the economic crisis, women have been driven into more insecure and potentially exploitative jobs as they seek to compensate for loss of household incomes. Women have been hit hard by reductions in public sector employment, or budget cuts in public services such as childcare.

It is precisely now—when everyone from government to individuals is looking for solutions to drive economic recovery that we have to advance women's full and equal participation in the economy. We need to keep those social programmes that allow them to do so.

Today countries in Europe are responding to the financial crisis and taking action to reduce debts and deficits. We cannot let austere policies set back gender equality in the workplace and society.

Women want to be part of the solution and they want their voices heard. They want to live free of fear. Women want their basic human rights respected.

Last year, all of us witnessed women rising up in Arab countries demanding freedom and democracy. I have just come from Beirut for a high-level meeting on reform and democratic transition. I stressed the importance of inclusiveness, human rights and the participation of women. I visited the region three times in 2011 to support women and young people in their aspirations to chart their own futures and the futures of their countries.

The desire for change and democracy remains strong in the Arab world. And the support of the international community for democratic forces must remain strong to secure gains towards democracy by and for the people.

A key challenge is to translate women's leadership in the streets into sustained leadership in the political arena. We need to ensure that transitional bodies and political processes respond to the needs, rights and priorities of women.

As the uprisings occurred last year, UN Women provided immediate support in Egypt and Tunisia. And UN Women will continue to support women in the Arab world and all regions in the world in their quest for democracy, justice and human rights. Democracy demands the full and equal participation of women.

Mr. President,
Distinguished Members of Parliament,

The 21st century has to finally be that time when we see equality between men and women.

In 1911, women were allowed to vote in just two countries of the world. Today that right is virtually universal. During the last decades, many steps have been taken on the road to equality. We have witnessed dramatic advances in legal reform to protect the rights of women. But progress remains very uneven across and within nations.

Today 125 countries outlaw domestic violence. One hundred and seventeen countries outlaw sexual harassment. And 187 nations have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

But we still have a long way to go to achieve equality. Violence against women remains one of the most pervasive violations of human rights and one of the least prosecuted crimes. And women remain terribly under-represented in politics and decision-making.

Today women make up less than 10 percent of world leaders. Globally less than one in five members of parliament is a woman. And the 30 percent critical mass mark for women's representation in parliament has been reached or exceeded in only 28 countries.

Now is the time to make a major push for increased women's political leadership and participation. I commend the Council of Europe for its commitment to making the equal participation of women and men in political life a reality.

This commitment is now universal. In December, United Nations Member States adopted a resolution in the UN General Assembly outlining concrete steps to increase women's political participation and leadership in times of peace, conflict and during political transition. Now we need to work together to turn these commitments into action.

Another major achievement in 2011 was the adoption of the landmark Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence. I pay tribute to the outgoing President of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, Mevlüt Çavusoglu, for his leadership for the Convention.

The provisions stress starting early with prevention, through education and the mass media, to ensuring that all women and girls subjected to violence have access to services for their safety, health, well-being and access to justice. There is also a mechanism for monitoring progress.

This is important because we know that here in Europe, as elsewhere, impunity is still the norm rather than the exception. A study featured in UN Women's Progress of the World's Women Report found that in European countries, only 14 percent of reported rape cases end in convictions of perpetrators.

Today I call on Member States to ratify the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence without delay. And I urge you to provide the leadership, mobilization and necessary resources to lift the burden of violence against women.

My friends,

During the past year, UN Women has taken great strides forward. We've benefited from an outpouring of goodwill and support and I'm proud of what we've accomplished together.

As parliamentarians, you are the bridge between people and the government and you bring the voices of women to the halls of power. In this Parliamentary Assembly, you represent 800 million citizens from diverse backgrounds who share common values, values articulated in the principles of the Council of Europe.

All of us at UN Women look forward to stronger cooperation with the Council of Europe to advance women's rights and empowerment and gender equality. It is time to put women's rights at the top of the political agenda. This will benefit current and future generations.

Thank you.

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